Sacks’ The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Carroll’s The Mad Gardener’s Song have a common denominator. They share a seeming disconnection, just as the exhibition Mistifório curated by Natxo Checa produces an extraordinary syntax.

Until January 20, Mistifório is the first moment of the Território exhibition cycle, in partnership with Culturgest, at Fidelidade Arte, Lisbon. The term, now sparsely used, mentions the grey zones and the borderline areas in any heterogeneous mixture, whose different origins conjoin for some reason.

This reason, which has become strictly structuralist since a few years ago, based on a natural human tendency to arrange things according to a logic, places the narrative above the signifier of the actors. The general reason of whoever coined it seems more important than the intervener’s reasons (Mental note: is this a justification for post-90s star-curators? This is food for thought).

Mistifório offers the visitor the freedom to see many drawings, paintings, sculptures – that is, objects – that apparently do not share a narrative direction. As such, the viewers’ syntax emerges independently.

When we enter the gallery, our only guide is the exhibition brochure, in an intimate approach that weeds out the imposing wall texts and/or tables. Despite the apparent perdition (in the condemnatory sense) that the visitor may feel immersed in, the exhibition fosters a surprisingly emancipatory feeling.

As we enter the cubes, in an unusual moss-green hue, we sense in the first room an intimate appreciation of objects set in different positions at our eye-line. With “domestic proportions” – small dimensions -, they are displayed in a contemporary line, but misaligned as on the walls of pre-20th century salons. Many works by established Portuguese artists are exhibited, some already known to the public, others unseen from private collections, never shown on a large scale. Jorge Queiroz, Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, Vespeira, Mattia Denisse, Noronha da Costa and Paulo de Cantos share this room’s space-time. I highlight Panta Rhei, a sculpture with Ouroboros contours, where water is both its end and its resurrection all at once.

Despite the apparent incompatibility between elements, visual symbols emerge in every room; for example, the circles, half circles or cyclical intuits subtly brushed on the exhibition’s route.

In the second room, we see O Modelo Humano (1936) by Paulo de Cantos, one of the exhibition’s nice surprises. According to Mistifório mediator Ana Flor Galvão, he was a designer and anatomy professor. A mixture of occupations that nurtured a unique ability to analyse and appreciate life, shared by the artist in the works on display.

We are guided by Lagoa Henriques’ sculpture and we fall (literally) into a plane where a projection by João Maria Gusmão + Pedro Paiva superimposes a wall of signifiers. It’s a large bookcase, crowded with objects – hippopotamus bones or a human skull – from the curator’s private collection. A true cabinet of curiosities is transported to a place vulgarly designed to be inhabited by the new. This movement makes the visit more intimate, adding possibilities through the luminous beam of the artist duo’s projection.

In the third and last room, more polished and less intoxicating, where emptiness is dominant, we find two new works, with also curious stories. An embroidery by Sarah Afonso and a painting by Almada Negreiros. They were fortuitously rescued and are now on display for the first time.

The exhibition ends with the painting Camuflagem (1985-1986) by Maria José Aguiar, chosen by the curator from the Caixa Geral de Depósitos collection. Curiously, it is a direct quote from Philip Guston’s Painting, Smoking, Eating (1972). I wonder: what better way to end an exhibition on juxtaposition than a work like Camuflagem?

Mistifório is a winning proposition, for it shares the quality of Soviet montage when it gave birth to the power of image sequencing, uncovering the intrinsic capacity to produce meaning. The difference between a film or sequence of moving images and an exhibition of these lies with the spectators. They can produce their own meanings. We may remember when we were children and intimately observed the shelf of reliquaries in our grandparents’ house.

If you cannot see it in Lisbon, Mistifório will also be in Porto in February. It is worth the visit

Maria Eduarda Wendhausen (Rio de Janeiro, 2000). She graduated in Art and Heritage Sciences from the Faculty of Fine Arts of the University of Lisbon and is a student of the Masters in Criticism, Curatorship and Theories of Art from the same institution. She also studied at Sotheby's Institute of Art on the Writing for the Art World, From Idea to Submission course. She works as a writer and curator in Lisbon, Portugal. She collaborated with Manicómio in the Pavilhão31 exhibition space and with Carpe Diem Arte e Pesquisa. Her last performance as a curator, took place at ARCOLisboa2022 with the exhibition CRACK THE EGG of the Millennium bcp Youth Art Prize, in 2022. In 2023, she started collaborating with CentralC as content manager. She writes regularly for scientific and specialized magazines as a freelancer in the field of art criticism, as well as features and academic essays, with the aim of disseminating and promoting to the general public, the multiple facets of art studies and their unfolding in everyday life.

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